Summer mini-writing workshop: Last call


So, like my Writer’s Digest Wednesday poetry prompts (and WD’s Poem-a-Day challenges in April and November), I am moving on to other projects. I am retiring this seasonal blog feature and will spend more time writing for paying publications (or at least publication credits). I’ll still keep a notebook of all the things I learn and share those on occasion in regular posts, but I’m tired and frankly, a bit overwhelmed with all the free (literally) writing I do, as much as I enjoy all the comments and feedback on it. I have fans, but I’m ready for customers.

University has gotten more intense (baccalaureate writing is tough), and I don’t need any more writing deadlines than I already have. I’m ready to streamline my process and not have to keep up with so many small pieces of writing, such as these workshops. Though I enjoy sharing writing tips, I’ve realized that creative writing, more so than ever, is my true love, and I want to make more time for that, among other things completely unrelated to writing and the craft. I hope those of you who are writers found the tips and truths helpful; these features helped me backlink to old posts—to get two for the price of one and refresh those old posts by running them through the Grammarly app (which I recently discovered), darken the font (for some reason, my WordPress text is set to dark gray), delete the stock photo and use an image that exclusively belongs to me, and add new tags and delete old ones. 

These past several months, I have been slowly removing things from my plate. I don’t like being in front of a screen all the time. I want to spend more time in green and blue spaces and work with my hands rather than my fingers all the time. I want to read more deeply (which I do so much better on paper) and scribble notes all over drafts (also on paper). I’ve had this blog almost seven years, and 1000+ posts in, I feel like I’m finally ready to make something great happen with my writing, and it has nothing to do with a college degree but all I have learned while getting it. I’m ready to put myself on an hourly rather than a daily writing schedule, where I will shut the door and work, and then put it away. I want to begin my day with some contemplation on the front porch, maybe a cup of tea (oh, who am I kidding? It’ll be coffee.) I don’t want to be up all hours of the night, toiling away at the keyboard. By treating my writing as a job rather than a hobby, I can make something happen, but does that mean I have wasted my time? Absolutely not, for everything I’ve done with my writing has led me to this point.

So far, I’ve come up with this formula (see below). When I start the fall semester, I will try to adhere to the formula below, even if I can only do it four times a week and spend the other two strictly on coursework (even God took a day off). 

1.5 hours writing + 1 hour editing + 30 minutes submitting = professional writing success?

Of course, I’ll aside time once a week to go through my photographs and work on my Shutterfly books, but that’ll be a weekend thing and not more than a couple of hours a weekend, at that. 



Summer mini-writing workshop: More on nonfiction writing


Just like query letters and synopses, writing blurbs, in this DIY world, is part of the process. Here is an example of a blurb for my postmodern short story, “Jordan/Jordyn,” where I used gender-neutral pronouns (it was a largely experimental project): Jordan Morrison has always felt his body was a mistake. His Catholic upbringing and gender dysphoria have started a civil war inside him, but it is his romance with Drew—a young woman with whom he’s been honest about his gender identity—that concerns him. Will she still love him when he becomes Jordyn, or does she only love what makes him a man? Will their relationship survive the transformation that will right what Jordan believes nature made wrong, or is Drew only pretending to support his decision because she knows it’s what he wants?

Part of my job used to be going through the daily obituaries. I’ve read some lovely tributes that captured the spirit of a loved one. Don’t wait until someone transitions before you record your memories of them, for what a treasure it would be to interview my grandparents and capture their stories—the ones only they could have told. In my Shutterfly account, I made memory books of my daughter where I document things—like how her dad and I used to put her duck, Quackers, on the fan blade and make him spin around till he fell off. Jot down your memories at their ripest and then freeze them at their freshest.

When I took Professional and Technical Writing, I learned how to create a beautiful and comprehensive set of instructions. If you can teach someone how to do something, great, but if you can help them teach themselves, even better.

I already know what I think of myself and can only imagine what other people think of me. A great quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is when Mr. Toohey asks the idealistic architect, Howard Roark, “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us,” to which Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you.” For this exercise, you must dig deep—remove yourself from your writing and step into the mind (if not the shoes) of someone else who knows you fairly well. You are not looking in the mirror, but you are looking at yourself, looking in the mirror.

Press releases may not be literature, but they serve a purpose, and the more types of writing you can do, the better you’ll become at the type of writing you like to do best.

I love telling my stories above all others. Maybe that’s because I’m an introvert. I also enjoy telling other people’s stories, though I ensure theirs are the ones I want to tell.

Every family has their traditions. Mine was always opening gifts on Christmas Eve (with no explanation of why Santa came early). By becoming your family’s historian, you are preserving not just the family tree but the fruit borne from it.

A cover letter to a magazine should be simple. Here is an example:

Dear Editor (if you know their name, use it; if you must specify Poetry Editor, etc., do so),

Please consider “The Murderous Yogi” for Dog Day Mornings, which is 2020 words. I have been published on, in Bella Grace magazine, and with The Saturday Evening Post. I am pursuing my B.A. in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing, at the University of West Florida, and am a Writing Expert for Grammarly.

Thank you,

Sarah Richards

*If you read and liked one of the articles they published, mention it to show you read their journal; however, this isn’t a must-do thing.

Summer mini-writing workshop


There is a story behind every new technology.

Just as Cecil B. DeMille believed you could take a page out of the Bible and make a movie, grab a medical coding book and find something to write about (other than cancer, unless it’s a memoir). The complexities of the human mind and body are vast.

Rather than write a movie review, write a poem about it. It still requires analysis on a deeper level.

“Just So” type stories (a la Rudyard Kipling) have always helped me answer questions no one ever thought to ask.

Write about something that seems like a contradiction but isn’t.

The metaphor is what poetess Kim Addonizio refers to as the shimmer. Make a list of your favorite things and come up with metaphors for each.

Pick a line from one of your previous works. If doing this sparks a series, tie the last poem in with the first. This is a great exercise because you never begin with a blank page.

Serve up a slice of Americana.

Summer mini-writing workshop: Writing tips


We all have something in our lives that makes living easier or better. For me, those things would be air conditioning, online bill pay, and, of course, coffee.

Write a love letter to something you are running out of. Show your appreciation.

Think of how much the world has changed in 1000 years (or even 100 years). Now, imagine how much it will change in so many years. Don’t worry about listing everything; just pick one thing and expand on it.

When you write from life, you become a data miner. I save emails, newsletters, photos of random things, fliers, quotes, links, obituaries/newspaper clippings, and even job descriptions. This piece, for example, was inspired by some of the event fliers I saw posted on bulletin boards around campus.

Jot down a list of mysterious titles like The Magician’s Daughter or The Undertaker’s Wife and write their story, never using their name. It worked for the second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca.

Hilarity ensues when there is a miscommunication about an object’s intended purpose.

Think of something you hate, and figure out how to repurpose it in such a way that you love it.

Grammarly is an incredible resource. This article has some great ideas if you’re stuck.

Summer mini-writing workshop: Writing ideas


Some things are American icons. Anyone who is a fan will probably read what you have to say about it.

Write about what you know but also what you (or someone else) loves.

Comparing one thing to something else can help you see old things in new ways.

Just as we learn history to keep from repeating it, we can take the present and predict the future.

There are many ways to play with language. Sometimes restraint helps creative juices flow in unexpected directions.

There is a story behind every letter and number. Find it, or make it up.

Technology and class systems are great fodder for science-fiction writers.

Consider possible origins of a popular sentence or saying, and write a story of how it came to be.

For 400 words or fewer, you can get editorial feedback. That’s pretty golden.

Summer mini-writing workshop: Writing ideas


Just as Law & Order rips from the headlines, it’s perfectly acceptable to, as Mark Twain would say, “distort them [facts] as you please.”

Pick a subject and tear it apart.

Lists may not be literary, but they can be useful. They can serve as reminders of what is most important.

There are beauty and symmetry in numbers. There would be no world without them.

Even if you’re not a child, read children’s books. You might be inspired like I was with Oh, the Places You Will Go!

How would the world be different if we weren’t allowed to create any lasting memories? Would every day be a new adventure, or would our days lose meaning?

Inside each of us is a universe. Write about one of the stars.

We’re all broken. Pick up one of the pieces and place it somewhere else.

Maria von Trapp had her favorite things. Oprah has her favorite things. If you love it, chances are someone else will, too.

Summer mini-writing workshop: On editing, submitting, and working in the biz


Most professional writing jobs require a Bachelor’s degree; this is where writing internships (whether on-site or remote) can help employers get past that requirement.

Before applying for a writing job, ensure your LinkedIn profile is updated (with a current headshot—not you ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter) and that your portfolio is diverse (I included a flyer, newspaper article, and a press release, among others, in mine). Never include personal blog posts in your portfolio—only professionally published pieces.

I used to have little interest in writing short fiction because you typically only earn royalties on novels. However, I realized I had so many ideas that weren’t enough for a novel but were perfect for a short story; I could also finish them quicker.

Reading, writing, and editing your work is the cake, but professional development, such as attending (and participating in) writing workshops, seminars, and conferences are the icing.

Dialect and slang can be tricky, however, they can establish not only the region but the period in which your characters live. Just don’t go overboard and exhaust your reader with too many words containing apostrophes (e.g., gettin’).

If you think it’s petty when professors take points off a paper for not following MLA or APA guidelines regarding headers, in-text citations, and references, you will realize how important attention to detail suddenly becomes when you start sending your work out to publishers and keeps getting rejected for not being formatted properly. (Usually, publishers won’t even tell you why; it’ll just end up in the slush pile, so you’ll never know what you did wrong.) Plus, it’s silly to lose points on something so easy.

Write what you want to read. I’ve tried tailoring my writing to fit an editor or publisher’s vision, which doesn’t work and is why I rarely submit any poetry (much of which is just all in fun and not meant to be taken seriously)—only short stories and essays; however, personal essays have a short shelf life, as they often cover or touch on timely topics (for example, the coronavirus pandemic).

Whereas a short story is like a television episode, a flash piece is like a single scene. Rediscovering flash fiction has helped me revitalize old projects and ideas that weren’t working as full-length stories. Even deleted scenes from my novel have been repurposed as flash pieces, so don’t toss something just because it doesn’t fit into the home you built for it.

Summer mini-writing workshop: On reading


Read at least one book about writing monthly—in addition to all the other reading you do—and take notes. If there are writing prompts, do them, and never stop brushing up on the basics with the help of online tutorials.

When I was a child, as soon as I mastered a jigsaw puzzle, I lost interest in it. As soon as I beat a game, I lost interest in it. Good books, however, I could read again and again.

I’d rather read a silly poem that made sense than a serious one that didn’t.

You can turn an ongoing activity into a journey. For me, it was a mini bucket list, that bucket being filled with books.

Reading about how to write a type of book isn’t the same as reading those types of books; I start with the instructions and then read the examples.

As much as I love series, I find that my brain stagnates when I read the same type of book (especially by the same author) for too long. Rereading books I cherished as a child has been a delight.

I’ve often found that a good book makes me feel like I’ve come home to a place I’ve never been to. Plot-driven stories tend to get read once and passed on, but character-based novels have a permanent home in my library because it was never all about a twist ending (an overused plot device). Books, like life, are about the journey, not just the destination. Here are a few books that have rereadability.